Tours: Land & Offroad Tours
Four-Wheel-Drive Adventures Through the Island's Interior
Time was, a motorized tour of Catalina Island meant climbing onto a tourist bus in the center of Avalon and heading off with several dozen other visitors on a very informative and enjoyable–but quite tame–guided drive around the island.
You can still take such tours, which leave frequently and in delightful variety from the Tour Plaza just a block inland from Avalon Harbor, and they remain one of the best, gentlest ways possible to get to know the island for the first time–or to renew an old acquaintanceship with it.
According to a 2005 report prepared for the U.S. Forest Service, however, modern America has a growing taste for the adventure of off-road driving in four-wheel-drive vehicles, with approximately 25 percent–and rising–of the nation's population demonstrating a taste for that rollicking, maverick means of transportation. In step with both the public's tastes and with a commitment to preserving and fostering an appreciation for Catalina's natural wonders, tour operators now make it possible for you to travel off-road across the island in an open-air Hummer, Jeep or Unimog.
The Catalina Island Conservancy offers visitors its Jeep Eco-Tours in both non-chartered 2-hour, and chartered half-day and full-day formats. Whether gentle touring or high-energy adventure, these tours will take you deep into the island's heart, along back roads that take you up high mountain ridges or deep into the shaded canyons. You'll have a chance to visit archaeological and historical sites dating back thousands of years; see close-up animals like bison, the Beechey ground squirrel, and the Catalina Island fox, and bald eagles soaring overhead; gain a deeper appreciation of local plant life like St. Catherine's lace and island scrub oak; and take in some of the most spectacular vistas possible of both the island and its surrounding waters.
Or join an inland "Cape Canyon Tour" of the island's "outback," organized by the Santa Catalina Island Company (SCICo). Your four-hour journey in a unique 12-passenger Mercedes Unimog off-road vehicle will take you through Middle Ranch Canyon and Cape Canyon, rising to an altitude of 1,300 feet as you pass through bald eagle and Catalina Island fox habitats. The journey isn't all "roughing it," however, since it also includes a stop at the Airport in the Sky, where you'll take in fascinating natural history exhibits and be served lunch.
Out of Two Harbors at Catalina's West End, SCICo also offers 1-hour, 2-hour, and 4-hour off-road open-air Hummer Tours. You'll ride in a modified version of the now-famous, widely popular military-style vehicle. Starting from the island's isthmus at Two Harbors, you'll climb unpaved roads to behold breathtaking vistas from an elevation of 1,802 feet. Along the way, your guide will share a wealth of information on the island's natural history, ecology, and conservation. Also in a spirit of adventure, but in the comfort of a larger tour coach, you can leave from Two Harbors on a four-hour "Buffalo Safari," winding through the canyons of the island's back coast to behold the herds of American bison that still roam the rugged interior–along with stops at the Bald Eagle Sanctuary and a native plant nursery.
Whichever tour you take, however short or long, you'll come away from it feeling like you've literally gone off the beaten path to gain a closer understanding of Catalina Island.
Arranging an Off-Road Land Tour of Santa Catalina Island
Since seating is limited in the Jeeps, Hummers, and Unimogs used for most off-road tours of Catalina Island, advance land tour reservations are highly recommended.
For Jeep tours, call the Catalina Island Conservancy at 310-510-2595, extension 108. Current rates for a non-chartered 2-hour tour are $70 per person, with a minimum of 2 paid seats; $549 total for up to six passengers on a private chartered half-day (4-hour) tour, including snacks; and $889 total for up to six passengers on a private chartered full-day (7-hour) tour, including lunch. Note that all proceeds from the Jeep tours help support the education and conservation work of the Catalina Island Conservancy.
For Hummer tours organized by SCICO out of Two Harbors, call 310-510-4205. All Hummer tours require at least 2 passengers and have a maximum of 7. Current rates are: $35 per person for a 1-hour "Ridge Run" covering about 4 miles; $64 per person (including snack) for a 2-hour tour covering about 12 miles; and $99 per person (including lunch) for a 4-hour tour covering about 20 miles. A 1-hour charter tour may be booked for up to 7 people for an inclusive price of $175. If you aren't staying at Two Harbors, you will have to arrange your own transportation there from Avalon or from wherever else you're staying on the island.
For SCICo's Cape Canyon tour ($89 per person), call 800-626-1496. For its Buffalo Safari tour ($89 per person) out of Two Harbors, call 310-510-4205.
Time to Allow: One hour to all day.
Reservations are required.
Prices and availability are subject to change.